A spokesperson for the state attorney general’s office said that the revelation is further proof that most Montana residents support the state’s controversial ban on TikTok.
TikTok appears to be actively funding a lawsuit challenging a Montana state ban on the popular social media application.
According to The New York Times, Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte recently signed a state-wide ban of the ByteDance-owned company.
While other states have prohibited the installation of TikTok on government-issued electronic devices, Montana is—to date—the first state to have banned private citizens from accessing TikTok within its borders.
Earlier this month—a day before the ban was expected to take effect—five so-called “content creators” filed a First Amendment lawsuit alleging that Montana state officials are inappropriately repressing residents’ rights to engage in protected speech and expression.
“Montana can no more ban its residents from viewing or posting to TikTok than it could ban the Wall Street Journal because of who owns it or the ideas it publishes,” the lawsuit alleges.
However, the New York Times reports that the five plaintiffs—who appear to have posited themselves as independent content creators leading a grassroots initiative against Montana’s purportedly unconstitutional policy—are, in fact, receiving financial support from TikTok and China-based ByteDance.
Earlier this week, though, a TikTok spokesperson finally acknowledged that it was bankrolling the lawsuit.
The admission came quickly after two of the plaintiffs apparently informed the New York Times that TikTok was an active participant in their claim.
“Many creators have expressed major concerns, both privately and publicly, about the potential impact of the Montana law on their livelihoods,” TikTok spokesperson Jodi Seth said in a statement. “We support our creators in fighting for their constitutional rights.”
TikTok said that, while it is funding the lawsuit, it is not paying any of the plaintiffs for their role in the complaint.
As LegalReader.com has reported before, Montana’s controversial ban suggests that TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, could—hypothetically—be compelled to make U.S. consumer data accessible to the Chinese Communist Party and its intelligence services.
TikTok has long maintained that it has never been asked to share sensitive information with Beijing, and insists that it would not comply with such requests were they ever to be made.
“Montana has no authority to enact laws advancing what it believes should be the United States’ foreign policy or its national security interests,” the lawsuit alleges. “Nor may Montana ban an entire forum for communication based on its perceptions that some speech shared through that forum, though protected by the First Amendment, is dangerous.”
However, The Register notes that Montana officials have already seized upon the news that TikTok is behind the lawsuit.
When asked by The Register for additional comment, a spokesperson for Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen’s office said that, while TikTok’s actions are legal, the company’s decision to fund litigation indicates that most Treasure State residents wish to see the social media application blacklisted.
“TikTok’s “support” is bought and paid for—Montanans recognize the threat that the app poses to their privacy and national security because it is owned by a company that answers to the Chinese Communist Party,” said Emily Flower, a spokesperson for Knudsen.